Speaking on the sidelines of the African Leadership Forum, Adesina says that the continent’s challenges are formidable – and fires off a warning shot for governments comfortable with an outdated growth model.
“The nature of Africa’s growth has been largely dependent on the export of primary commodities. While that has been fantastic for Africa in terms of economic growth, the challenge is that it has also given the giant a weakness,” he says.
Adesina argues that this long-standing dependence on raw materials has left Africa exposed to the peaks and troughs of Chinese demand. The evident side effects – a decline in foreign exchange reserves, inflation, the devaluation of currencies and an inability to service debts – mean that an alternative growth model must be found without delay, he says.
“What I don’t accept is that African countries should continue to export raw materials. We’ve been doing that for ever. And we have these cyclical patterns all the time,” he says.
Tinkering with the bank’s loan strategy will not be enough, he argues – the AfDB must get serious and formulate a broad-based industrial renaissance ruthlessly targeting value addition.
“At the AfDB I want us to focus on industrialisation, and it means that we want to actually get African countries to process, add value, whether it’s to agricultural commodities, minerals and metals, oil and gas – Africa should be adding value to every single thing.”
Such transformative policy pronouncements are not unusual for a man who made his name tearing up the old order in his native Nigeria. In a much-praised stint as the country’s agriculture minister, Adesina set about dismantling state monopolies in supply industries, slashing the country’s import bill and building value chains for key crops.
The question now is whether this reformist zeal – fuelled by a belief in the transformative power of the private sector and bold policy implementation– can translate to an institution which has settled into established ways of doing business under the decade-long presidency of Donald Kaberuka.
Adesina admits that if lofty ideals are to turn into workable policy goals, the bank and its staff will have to adapt to new ways of doing business.
“Wherever you have an institution, a number of changes are needed. First and foremost is a change of direction. It’s not a total change of direction but an enhanced focus on areas we can have an impact in. I call it refreshing our strategy,” he says diplomatically.
Adesina says that the bank’s convening power could prove as valuable as the loans and technical assistance that it will continue to offer. The testing ground for this strategy will be his first major initiative as president – a personal crusade to improve Africa’s dire energy output.
This is the first part of a four-part series to be posted daily.